PHOENIX — In 2020, by all measurements, Arizona experienced its hottest summer ever. The City of Phoenix saw a record 50 days with temperatures 110 degrees or higher. Phoenix also saw a record of 145 days of 100 degrees or more. And, an average high of 110 degrees in August, yes, another record.
“We’re optimistic about what the future of this city can look like from a heat perspective,” said Dr. David Hondula.
Dr. Hondula, the cities new Director of the Office of Heat Response and Mitigation certainly has his work cut out for him. He now leads the first publicly funded team of its kind in the country. He spoke to us for the first time sitting beside Mayor Kate Gallego outside City Hall Wednesday.
“Cities all across the country and beyond are rethinking how they want to approach this hazard of heat which historically has fallen through the governance cracks,” said Dr. Hondula.
With an annual budget of $2.8 million, the team looks to create a cooler Arizona using innovative solutions involving technology while combining data and resources to reduce the number of heat deaths.
In 2010 Maricopa County saw 186 heat-related deaths. A number that’s been climbing, culminating in a record 522 in 2020.
“This is not a temporary commitment, we’re remaking Phoenix government with an eye towards how we can address heat,” said Mayor Gallego.
Dr. Hondula says they’ll use data to determine a better and more equitable way to plant trees and establish heat relief stations across the metro. He says they’ll also look to new building materials that reduce heat island effect and establish operational partnerships with other city divisions.
“We think that having people who are focused on this problem day in and day out make a huge difference in pursuing solutions,” said Dr. Hondula.
Succeeding means a safer and more prosperous community. Dr. Hondula, whose PHD is in the area of environmental sciences, believes it is achievable.
“Modeling studies suggest that with widespread deployment of cooling technologies like the cool roads program the mayor has helped champion, cool roofs, trees, we could actually wind up with a city that is cooler in the future than it is today, even with global warming continuing,” said Dr. Hondula.